"Everything’s Appropriate:" Robert Mercurio and Galactic Host the Icicle Ball (Ten Years On)
DB- A number of people have also mentioned that Jeff seems to have turned a corner.
RM- He has. His whole confidence level has gotten a lot better. It’s amazing how much of that is confidence level. A lot of people play great but in front of people they freeze up. His best shows were always when not as many people would show up and he’d be ripping. Then the next night we’d have a sold-out show at Irving Plaza and he’d freeze up a bit. I think he also benefited from touring with Skerik with that ethos of getting up there and doing whatever you want. He’s been practicing a lot too, stepping it up. This last producer we worked with [Nick Sansano] was more into the guitar, the sound of the guitar than maybe Dan [Prothero] was on our other records. I think that the way this record came out was even more pleasing to Jeff. It’s all about confidence. Well, okay, practicing too (laughs) but there is that psychological element. I think he’s one of the reasons the sound has gotten a little heavier.
DB- As evidenced in part by the fact that you’re doing a Black Sabbath cover (“Sweetleaf”).
RM- With Houseman singing it. How funny is that? But it works out.
DB- How did that come about? Who brought that one to the band?
RM- I think that came from our discussion list. People will come up and suggest covers a lot and usually they’re kind of typical. What we’re trying to get to now is take songs that aren’t funky at all and try to make them funky. That’s a lot more exciting than covering a tune that already sounds like us. Somebody mentioned it on the discussion group and it sounded like a good idea so we tried it out.
It’s funny because there’s this guy in New Orleans that’s always said he wanted to start doing Black Sabbath covers with Theryl singing. And I was always like, “Really?” It seemed super funny to me. Theryl to this day says, “Okay don’t tell anybody in my neighborhood that I’m doing this tune.” But he gets a kick out of it. At first he was “What? Well okay, I’ll give anything a shot.” And I think through him doing his solo record it’s given him more of an “I’ll do anything, let’s have fun” kind of attitude. The solo record has given him an avenue to get out a lot of tunes that he has in him. So he’s a lot more open to stuff like this. I love the Sabbath cover, especially on this tour because we’ve done it once with Les Claypool. It’s great with him up there, the two basses and he was a big Sabbath fan himself.
DB- What has that experience been like, being joined on stage by Les?
RM- It’s a total childhood dream. It’s crazy., He’s sat in with us twice. I remember the first time he was going to play with us on “Tippi Toes” an old Meters tune that he did on this EP of covers. We suggested it to him. This was just before the show went on and he said, “I don’t remember it, can you teach it to me?” So that was a great position for me to be in, teaching Les Claypool a bass line- “No it goes like this. No, it’s more like this.” It’s pretty freaky. I have a lot of friends growing up who were really into him too. I never thought I would be on tour with Les Claypool. It’s amazing. It’s going to be great. He’s bringing out Skerik with his group and we’ll have Lake Trout around and Drums and Tuba. It’s going to be a great group of people, and there’s’ going to be a lot of sit-ins, potentially interesting stuff every night.
Last year we did quite a bit of collaborating with other bands on tour. We did the Counting Crows/Live Tour and we did two weeks with Ben Harper…I’ve heard a lot of people asking when we’ll go out on our own. People want us to go back to just us and we’re going to do that soon. But on his tour we’re going to be playing about two hours a night. Plus, it’s hard to pass up these really cool collaborations because you don’t know when they’re going to happen again. How are we going to pass up touring with Les Claypool?
DB- In addition you’ll be out there with Lake Trout and Drums and Tuba. I know Lake Trout…
RM- We just did a two week tour with Lake Trout, They’re a great group.
DB- Agreed. Tell us a bit about Drums and Tuba, though. I know you’ve toured with them and they’re friends of yours. I haven’t seen them yet.
RM- They were originally based out of Austin but they just all moved up to New York. They used come to New Orleans and our sax player Ben [Ellman] was really good friends with them. They are not as diehard into drum and bass as Lake Trout but they have the loops. Actually they also have a guitar player but I don’t think it sounded as good as Drums, Tuba and Guitar (laughs). They’re similar to Lake Trout in that they’re not solo-oriented. There’s more of a textural groove. They’re really interesting. Their instrumentation and songwriting is really neat. For us it’s exciting to tour with them again. The whole tour is going to be great. Everyday is going to be a funhouse with a lot of people hanging out.
DB- Jumping back, you mentioned that the band is exploring non-traditional covers. What are the odds you’ll go all the way back to your roots and start covering Fugazi?
RM- It’s funny. I just got the new Rage Against the Machine CD and they do a Minor Threat tune. They make it a little funkier and they add their own element. I can imagine doing that. Of course no one would know what it was. They’d think it was us (laughs). Actually, those are the best covers to do, the obscure ones where the crowd thinks they’re yours. And Fugazi has some funky tunes.
DB- Or given the personnel on your upcoming tour, how about something in the Primus realm?
RM- It would be funny to do a Primus tune with Houseman singing. I’m sure there’s going to be some Primus fans in the crowd and we’re going to be going on after Les so they’d probably get a kick out of it.
DB- At the very least it would freak them out a bit, if you have the time to work something up.
RM- I know we will. Les could even show us some tunes. That would be really funny.
DB- In terms of touring, you visited Tokyo twice this year. Describe that experience.
RM- We first went last January and we really had no idea what to expect. We ended up selling out this place the size of the Fillmore in San Francisco, 1200 people. We played from midnight to six in the morning and the crowd was so enthusiastic, so into it that we were just blown away. It was way better than our first experience in any city in America. That was just one night and we really wanted to go back, so they finally brought us over again in December for three shows this time. That was the first time we’ve ever had the crowd rush the stage and ask for autographs and stuff like that (laughs). Our sax player stage-dived into the crowd and they were carrying him around. It was intense.
DB- What was the response of the European audiences when you traveled there this past fall?
RM- In Europe certain cities had the same reaction and certain cities didn’t. We sold out two nights in London and we’d never been there. Then in Amsterdam we played the Cannabis Cup, which of course was sold out, packed and just awesome. Of course our whole purpose to go there was to play Europe and half those people were from California.
DB- Last month you also recorded a three night stand at Tipitina’s for a live disc. What is the status of that project?
RM- We have twenty CDs worth of music although we haven’t heard any of the music yet. The guy who’s going to be mixing the CD is working on Stanton’s CD right now. We’re going to be listening to it a lot on the road. We hope to get a CD out by Jazz Fest but we’re not going to push it. If takes longer it will, it’s hard to say. Those were really great nights and we always have a good show at Tip’s.
DB- So I take it you haven’t even started thinking about song selection.
RM- Actually there’s a lot of different conversations going on about it. Mainly we’re going to put on tunes that we wouldn’t put on a studio record, the covers maybe or maybe a revamped version of a song we’ve already recorded. We’re probably going to have some unreleased songs too. We wrote three tunes just prior to those shows while we were in Europe. Hopefully all that stuff will come out. Basically we want to put the best music on there but have it unique.
DB- You also have an album out where you back Rachid Taha on three tracks. How did that come about?
RM- That was also through the producer we just worked with. Rachid is a French Moroccan artist. He does what’s called rai music. It’s a style that’s very popular in Europe- sort of middle eastern meets dance music. On Sting’s new record he incorporates a lot of rai music. Anyhow, this producer is good friends with Rachid’s manger so they asked us to play. It was a really cool bunch of people to meet. It was a really crazy session, they brought in this British trip hop producer. So it was middle-eastern-meets-French singer with a British trip hop producer and a New Orleans funk band. They somewhat told us what to play but they gave us freedom too and it came out really neat.. He’s a pretty big artist over there, I think his last disc was platinum for France. It’s definitely some interesting stuff and it’s all in French. It was interesting to go in and play on someone else’s disc and have total freedom without anyone having expectations about it being the next Galactic disc- “You want us to play like that? Okay, cool.” It was another great studio experience and to me spending any time in the studio is a good thing.
DB- Speaking of which, do you know when you’ll return to record a follow-up to Late For The Future?
RM- We’ll probably go in some time this summer. I think by then we’ll be primed. Stanton and I live real close to each other and he just bought this Pro Tools recording program so we’ve been doing quite a bit of jamming and playing around with computers. We’re definitely trying to get a little more experimental in the studio and this lends itself to endless amounts of experimentation.